Written by Amanda Maher
For ICIC, the economic health of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood is personal. We moved our offices there in early 2013 and haven’t looked back since. After all, it only makes sense for a firm specializing in inner city business and economic development to be located in the inner city. Over the past two years, we’ve had a front row seat to a number of exciting changes in the neighborhood.
Dudley Square, where our offices are located, was once Boston’s second most prominent commercial center (behind only downtown Boston). Beginning in the 1960s, the theaters, dance halls and restaurants that drew people from across the region began to shut down. Residents followed suit: between 1950 and 2000, nearly 60,000 fled Roxbury for wealthier neighborhoods and suburb’s greener pastures.
“Everyone [goes] back to the first half of the 20th century – that’s the golden age of Dudley Square,” David Price, Executive Director of Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation, told the Boston Globe. “Everyone is trying to get back there.”
While redevelopment plans have been long in the making, Dudley Square has seen a particularly rapid transformation over the past few years. Buttressed by a gleaming new police station and post office, the renovation of Hibernian and Palladio halls, and additional service to the Dudley Square bus station, developers have begun to show interest in the neighborhood. The fact that Boston’s real estate market is booming didn’t hurt, either.
One of the largest development projects is actually one spearheaded by the City of Boston itself. Under Mayor Menino, the City took over the storied Ferdinand furniture building, an icon in the heart of the Square, and committed to redeveloping it into the future headquarters of the Boston Public School system. Mayor Menino’s vision for the site has continued under the leadership of Mayor Walsh, and in 2015 it reopened under its new name, the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building. The six-story building houses approximately 500 municipal employees and includes office, coworking and event space that is open to the community. The rehabbed site also includes 18,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and the 3,000 square foot Roxbury Innovation Center. Dudley Café and Dudley Dough, a cooperative pizzeria operated by Dudley Square nonprofit Haley House, are among the first retail establishments to sign leases in the new building.
The City’s $115 million investment in the Bolling Building has sparked significant private investment throughout the Square.
Earlier this year, Tropical Foods opened a 44,000 square foot supermarket in Dudley Square, replacing the small market of the same name that had served the neighborhood since 1974. The owners of Tropical Foods partnered with Madison Park Development Corporation and won a bid to redevelop the city-owned land adjacent to the old market. The move has allowed Tropical Foods to hire 30 additional staff members and to expand its offerings while continuing to offer hard-to-find international foods.
Down the street, Long Bay Management Company has proposed a $200 million mixed-use tower that would include retail and offices on the lower floors, with 16 floors of condos and apartments above. The 25-story tower would be Roxbury’s tallest building.
“We’ve held property in Dudley for almost 30 years, but the time is right now,” explained Long Bay executive Kenneth Guscott, a Roxbury native and one of the neighborhood’s most prominent longtime investors.
Elsewhere in Roxbury, developers have proposed redeveloping the Whittier Street public housing project and 7-acre site dubbed “Tremont Crossing.” The Whittier Street proposal includes transforming the public housing project into a large mixed-income residential development. The Whittier Street project would involve the transformation of five buildings, to be redeveloped in stages to allow for the gradual relocation of public housing tenants. All relocated tenants would be given preference for the affordable units to be included in the final mixed-income project.
Plans for Tremont Crossing are more problematic. Governor Deval Patrick once committed to relocating the state’s transportation headquarters to a 24-story tower on the massive mixed-use complex. But when the Baker administration came to the helm in 2015, it was determined that the relocation was cost prohibitive. Development across the balance of the Tremont Crossing is still planned to proceed, which can support roughly 1 million square feet of mixed-use development. The project’s developers, Feldco Development Corp. and Elma Lewis Partners, just recently announced that BJ’s Wholesale Club is close to signing a lease for a 90,000 square foot store.
Sprinkled into these transformational redevelopment projects are smaller, but still noteworthy private investments. Blue Hill Bar & Grille has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help realize its goal of bringing “great food to Roxbury at prices the neighborhood can afford”. The $35,000 it seeks to raise would enable the restauranteurs to open along Blue Hill Avenue, a notoriously blighted street that bisects Roxbury. Last week, the Boston Redevelopment Authority unanimously approved a $38 million project in Dudley Square that will include a Marriott Residence Inn, apartments and retail space.
And not to be forgotten, ICIC itself has just found a new home in Dudley Square. We have recently relocated from our offices at 184 Dudley Street into a new location just a few blocks away at 56 Warren Street. When evaluating our options, our desire to stay in Roxbury helped to influence our decision. We are excited to be a part of a neighborhood revitalization that is moving full-steam ahead.